One Minute Book Reviews: What I’ve Been Reading This Autumn & Festive Season

21 Jan 2024

Autumn book reviews

Last year, as part of trying to get my mental health in a good place and just generally feel like myself again, I set myself a challenge of reading 40 books. I’d never set myself a reading challenge before; I felt reading should be purely for pleasure and not some kind of competition to read as much as possible. But my frazzled mind wanted to give myself a bit of a kick up the bum to do more of what I love and – quite frankly – use the best tool I have found to a) keep my mental health in a good place and b) stop rotting my brain through the act of scrolling on my phone. So, whilst it wasn’t really about the number (although I was halfway through my 37th book when the new year rang in, if you’re interested), I found having a number a good nudge into good habits. And it really worked! 

I also changed how I shopped for books this year. I really made an effort to support my local bookshop over shopping on amazon for example. But there’s no denying that books are getting more and more expensive (so many new hardbacks recently coming out between £17 and £20. TWENTY POUNDS. For one book!), so 2023 was also the year I started shopping for second-hand books. And once I realised I could shop for books on Vinted, I knew I was going to be in trouble. It’s so addictive! That dopamine hit though when you discover a book you’ve been hankering after brand new for three quid. It’s like a little treasure hunt. 

I’ve set myself the same challenge for 2024 but before I crack on, these are my final reads of 2023 and there are some real good’uns. I finally jumped on the Babel bandwagon, fell in love with The Berry Pickers and pushed Strange Sally Diamond into several hands. Let’s dive in shall we? 

The List by Yomi Adegoke

High profile journalist at a feminist magazine, Ola, and her fiancé Micheal are ‘couple goals’ on social media. That is until one morning, they both wake up to find that Micheal’s name has appeared on a viral list of men accused of predatory behaviour. I can imagine this being a great book for a book club. The nuances and the grey areas would make for some hearty discussions. I personally didn’t enjoy this as much as I wanted to because I found the characters quite dislikable, and I ended up caring less and less about what was true and what would happen to them as a couple. I also found the ‘twist’ at the end dissatisfying. But, having said that, it’s a book that races along and offers a lot of insight into the current cultures surrounding social media and cancel culture. 3/5

Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries 

If you’re unaware, Alan Rickman kept diaries pretty consistently for a lot of his adult life and you can now have them all on your bookshelf. To read something so personal over the course of 20+ years of his life, to see his ordinary every day and his extraordinary stories with huge names and unique experiences made for a truly fascinating read. My only gripe with it was I felt like the editor had been a little selective on where he provided explanations; some footnotes felt obvious and others felt lacking and needed more context. It feels weird to rate someone’s diaries but if I was, I’d rate the diaries five stars and the overall reading experience four. Would definitely recommend. 4/5

Zero Altitude by Helen Coffey 

Travel journalist, travel lover and frequent flyer Helen Coffey challenged herself to go flight-free for a year. Part journalistic investigation into just how bad flying is for the environment (really, really bad, and no, offsetting does not make up for it) and part memoir about the incredible travel experiences she had whilst keeping her feet firmly on the ground. This is a great book for those who are interested in changing the way they travel and want to know more about why they should, but it’s also an incredibly reassuring tale of why going flight free does not mean sacrificing experiences, even for the biggest travel enthusiast. And yes, she’s still flight free now. 4/5

The Shadow Cabinet by Juno Dawson 

The second in the Her Majesty’s Royal Coven series, we pick up with the same characters exactly where we left off. I really like the concept of this series (modern day witches) and the characters are enjoyable to read but the plot felt all over the place and it felt like the story could have been considerably shorter. 2.5/5

Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent 

This book opens with the main character, Sally, following her father’s wishes – putting him out with the rubbish after he died. I mean, what an opening! Now at the centre of a media storm and being questioned by the police, she begins to discover the horrors of her childhood and we delve right into decades-old mysteries. I read this around Halloween, and it certainly fitted the bill for thrills and horror. I read it in twenty-four hours because I was so hooked, and I loved being with the main character and the unique way she viewed the world. 4/5

The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters 

A four-year-old Mi’kmaq girl called Ruthie goes missing from the blueberry fields of Maine sparking a tragic mystery that will haunt her family, unravel a community and remain unsolved for nearly fifty years. Meanwhile, a young girl named Norma grows up as the only child of an affluent family often troubled by recurring dreams, unanswered questions and the just-can’t-shake-feeling that there’s something her parents aren’t telling her. I can’t tell you how brilliant I thought this book was. It’s not a mystery – you as the reader can figure out what has happened of course – instead, it’s an emotional story about the resilient power of family and hope. The characters of Ruthie and Joe were so engaging, and you desperately wanted them to be reunited. Beautiful book. 5/5

Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros 

The second book in the Empyrean series about dragon riders at Basgiath war college. I was hooked by the first one and found the second very enjoyable. I think you could tell that this was perhaps written in a bit of a rush, and I can see why some might have been a little disappointed by it when comparing to the first book, but I love the world and the characters enough to happily go along for the ride. I’m looking forward to the next in the series. 4/5

Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kaung

What a book! There was a lot of hype around this book, but I actually read Yellowface, Kaung’s latest novel, before I read this. I was amazed at how different the two novels were. Kaung is definitely an exciting author to watch (she’s also ridiculously young for her level of achievements and makes me feel like I’m underperforming in life!). It is set in a fantastical version of 1828 where the British empire is built on enchanted silver bars, which work through the art of manifesting the meaning of words lost in translation. Brought from Canton by the mysterious Professor Lovell, after his mother dies from cholera, Robin Swift spends his childhood preparing to enrol in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation, otherwise known as Babel. But working for Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland and as Robin starts to become more and more conflicted, the questions is: can a student bring down an empire? I wanted to savour everything about this book: the cobbled streets of a fantasy Oxford, the flawed but loveable characters, the gorgeous writing, the detailed footnotes. That ending though; I’m still not recovered from the final hundred pages. 5/5

Falling by T.J. Newman 

I read T.J. Newman’s second novel Drowning and really enjoyed it, but I have to say, I was a little disappointed by her first novel. A pilot’s family are taken hostage and will be killed unless he deliberately crashes the plane he is flying from LA to New York, with 200+ people on board. Whilst I had no idea what would happen in Drowning, I found this predictable and a little too much like a cheesy American film. It was entertaining enough but I think Newman's plotlines have improved since her first book. 2.5/5

Love and other human errors by Bethany Clift 

Bethany Clift’s first novel, Last One At The Party, was one of my favourite books of 2023 so I had to pick up her second novel. Set in the near future, we follow Indiana Dylan and the soulmate program she has invented. Blackmailed into proving the efficiency of the programme by being her own guinea pig, her carefully ordered life is thrown into chaos. This is a different and fresh take on the romcom genre, quirky and funny with loveable robots: what’s not to like? 4/5

The Wake-Up Call by Beth O’Leary

Izzy and Lucus, sworn enemies, work at the failing Forest Manor Hotel. The hotel hasn’t recovered from Covid, money is running out and the ceiling is quite literally falling in. When Izzy returns a guest’s lost wedding ring, the sizable reward convinces management that this could be their Christmas miracle. With four more rings still sat in lost property, the race is on for Izzy and Lucas to save their beloved hotel. And of course, they don’t stay enemies for long. I love a Beth O’Leary novel. And a Beth O’Leary novel set at Christmas? You couldn’t ask for a better joyous and festive read. 4/5

Happy reading folks x